Under the Streets, the City: Berlin Above and Below

Berlin has long been expanding underground, especially in its central districts. sFoundations and basements came first, followed by the initial uenetworked infrastructures:h gas (1826), water (1856), sewers (1878), and electricity (1882). The subway system (1902) created a second level of transport below the streets. Subterranean space took on a public dimension; the streets acquired an underground counterparty. The subway lines were joined by underground passages, underground local and regional railway lines, and underground streets and parking facilities. With each new ursystem and building, the interconnections and interdependencies between above-ground and underground structures became more complex.
From the perspective of the street, however, these developments remained largely hidden. Mirroring this phenomenological divide – structures above and below ground cannot be perceived simultaneously – “the city” and “the underground city” continue to be viewed separately, as if they were two distinct, parallel realities: above the “world” of streets, squares, and buildings, below the “world” of technical infrastructure and logistical facilities. This is especially true of the block-based cities of the nineteenth century and their “reconstructed” revenants of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Yet above-ground and underground structures, like architecture and infrastructure, have always been both separate and inseparably connected at the same time.

Abb.: Fig.: “Berlin above ground. Friedrichstrasse | Berlin under ground. Friedrichstrasse subway station” (picture postcard, Verlag Weltstadt (Berlin), dated 1910). In the 1910s, the layering of public space was presented as a “cosmopolitan” achievement on a series of postcards titled “Berlin above ground. Berlin underground.” The cards show the first and second levels, the street and the interior of a subway station, in parallel. This (literal) doubling of Berlin already gestures toward the supposed dichotomy of “city” and “underground city.”

This is a brief preview of a text that will appear in the project publication in early 2022.

MARTIN MURRENHOFF is an architect and urban researcher, who currently works as a research associate at Berlin’s Technical University. This essay is based on his dissertation project Die tiefe Stadt / The Deep City (Technical University of Munich), forthcoming in 2022. In 2019, his essay München als Modellfall der ‘Tiefen Stadt’. Eine Nachkriegsgeschichte städtischer Infrastruktur appeared in the anthology Bayern, München. 100 Jahre Freistaat. Eine Raumverfälschung.